Thursday, March 18, 2010

Senators Foiled By Headshot Paranoia

Opening faceoff at an empty Phillips Arena was not exactly the shot in the arm the Senators needed after weakly capitulating to a their sad-sack rivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night.

But who am I calling sad-sack?

Nobody is counting the losses anymore. The Senators are in a freefall where up is down and down is.... down. Forget statistics and line combinations and ice time. The Senators are beyond that now.

They may not have enough confidence left to tie their skates up, let alone win an NHL hockey game anytime soon.

Yes, that's me being melodramatic. But it's just the kind of mood that's kicking around these days.

How do they pick themselves up now after a game where they got behind 2-0 and 3-1 before battling back, only to get sideswiped by the headshot paranoia that has gripped the league so feverishly this season?

The score was 3-3 and the Senators had all the momentum. It was only a matter of time before they broke the game open. Then big Andy Sutton leveled Eric Boulton with a great bodycheck along the boards. That should have spurred the Senators on even more.

Unfortunately, the paranoia is so ratcheted up that the refs felt they had to call a penalty simply because Boulton was dazed after the hit. Never mind that it was clean. Never mind that Sutton hit Boulton in the chest and not the head. Never mind that players have been delivering these same exciting hits since the league was founded. It's just not cool to deliver big hits anymore, clean or not.

(The Associated Press is calling Sutton's hit a "cheap shot"! Clearly, the guy writing the copy, Paul Newberry, didn't bother to look at the hit on a replay. Why should he have to? In today's mindset, if it was a big hit, it just had to be a "cheap shot".)

Just like that, due to external issues beyond the Senators control, and beyond this specific game, the tide turned on a blown call, the Thrashers scored on the ensuing power-play and it was Goodnight Irene.

Now you know why the minority of us who aren't drinking the Kool-Aid regarding this sudden concern over hitting, keep warning that a rush to legislate a new standard without regard to consequences is going to slowly take big hits out of the game.

Sutton's hit was Exhibit Number Two. He got called on an almost identical hit against the Leafs. He got called because he's big and hits hard. Not because he hits dirty.

The Senators paid the price for that tonight.

Other than that, you can probably point to the usual suspects. Brian Elliott was mediocre, as he has been since the Olympic break, but Cory Clouston just doesn't believe in Pascal Leclaire, just like he doesn't believe in heart and soul winger Shean Donovan. Don't expect any changes in philosophy going forward from the coach.

But on a positive note, Ken Warren wrote an article today that could cheer even the most desperate of Sens fans. Despite this losing streak, the chances of the Sens missing the post-season are pretty slim.

While the Rangers would need 20 points from their final 12 games to hit 91 points, the Senators would only need to play .500 hockey -- 12 points in 12 games -- to hit that mark.

So think positive folks.

Everything is going to be all right.

Isn't it?


Sure, the atmosphere inside the Atlanta rink is terrible, but I kind of like the blue dashers and the blue seams on the glass. I think it would be a cool idea if more teams did that in their own colours.......A quick check of the Thrashers website reveals they are advertising possible playoff tickets. I guess it's better to be safe than sorry..... Slava Kozlov is also one of the featured players on the side banners of the site. I seem to remember him asking for a trade before the deadline. You know times are tough in Atlanta when........ Not to kick them when they're down, but the slogan the Thrashers proudly display on their site is "That's The Hockey Way". Who wrote that elegant little passage of high literature?........

You know Chris Neil is in the game when he gets that evil little smile on his face. He gets that smile when he's in a fight too. Kind of creepy actually...... I used to really give it to Team 1200 morning host Lee Versage on this blog for being too negative and ripping players too harshly. But I have to admit I don't mind listening to the guy anymore. Since Glenn Kulka left the morning show, Versage is less prone to hyperbole and seems quite reasonable most of the time. While the chaotic nature of the Kulka era was somewhat entertaining in a train wreck sort of way, the current show is actually informative and much more listener friendly. People no longer get attacked on air when they call in and have an opinion different than the hosts. Good job, Versage. Count me in as part of the listening audience......

In honour of Steve "That Was A Dirty Hit" Lloyd's recurring hour-long segment devoted to the latest hockey violence on the Team 1200 pre-game show (even Lloydie acknowledged tonight that they spend way too much time on it!), I feel it's our obligation to turn against the stampeding herd of sheep by pointing out a great article by The Hockey News' Rory Boylen. He brings up a lot of the exact same points I did last week here, but he makes a much more eloquent and better argument than I can about this absurd hysteria we find ourselves in.

Here's just a few of his well-taken points:

The day after a star player is injured by a devastating bodycheck, there’s always calls for rule changes to fix the horrible injuries that plague the league. A bunch of alarmist sentiment blows up, as if it’s breaking news that getting hit in the head is not a good thing – or that hockey can be a potentially dangerous sport....

It’s not a simple fix. It’s easy to shout for changes and leap at the league when they don’t happen because those voices have absolutely no accountability when the rules don’t pan out perfectly and they just move on to the next crusade.......

You don’t think if players can’t hit guys who cut across the middle with their head down that hip checks won’t make a comeback? It won’t be long before knee injuries set in and that becomes a target.....

There are only about two or three devastating hits to the head, that aren’t already covered by the rulebook, per year that lead to extended injuries.....

Of course there is an element of danger at the NHL level. Just like there is an inherent danger every time a NASCAR driver hits the track or a UFC fighter enters the octagon, NHLers take on some form of risk when they step on the ice.....

It’s easy to call yourself progressive on one side or claim you’re standing up for the game’s integrity on the other, dismissing each other’s argument with your arms crossed and your chin in the air, unwilling to listen. And, hey, you’ll get attention that way because it will anger so many.

That was a rather long excerpt (and probably some sort of copyright violation) but his article is a rare argument to slow this whole process down and apply some more thought so we don't end up with unintended consequences. When this many people jump on a bandwagon so quickly, you just know that something is rotten in Denmark. It seems that this process is being driven by people who are frustrated that justice is not black and white in real life, and so they try to impose those impossible moral standards on a sport that has functioned extraordinarily well, more or less, for over a hundred years.

The hit on Marc Savard was vicious and clearly over the line. No one wants to see an athlete seriously injured, but there sure are a lot of people watching the Pittsburgh-Boston rematch tonight. Like it or not, you'd be hard pressed to find a rivalry that didn't start with or wasn't enhanced by some kind of vicious hit.

Detroit and Colorado started a feud for all times with Claude Lemieux's cowardly hit on Kris Draper from behind. The Senators and Leafs rivalry is plagued with borderline acts such as Tie Domi crushing both Martin Havlat and Magnus Arvedsson with open ice hits (both players had their heads down) and the now legendary Daniel Alfredsson hit on Darcy Tucker.

The Oilers and Flames battles of the 80's were so vicious that people are still in awe. Mark Messier and Joel Otto basically tried to kill each other every night and an elbow in the face was as common as a facewash is now.

If Gordie Howe were playing today, he and his legendary elbows would be vilified. Same as The Rocket, same as Ted Lindsay.

As Senators play-by-play man Dean Brown is fond of pointing out, there is already a penalty in the book called Intent to Injure. Refs can call it if they want to.

The railroading of a new rule with unknown consequences is simply a sham to quiet the outraged Canadian hockey media who know a juicy flank when they see one.

On a positive note, the league finally acted responsibly by handing the Ducks James Wisniewski an eight game suspension for what was essentially an "attempt to injure" Brent Seabrook.

This is a sure sign that Colin Campbell is starting to feel the heat after running his division like a gong-show for well over a decade now. On that we can all agree. Yet we can probably expect to see him in the same job ten years from now....


dzuunmod said...

The hit on Marc Savard was vicious and clearly over the line. No one wants to see an athlete seriously injured, but there sure are a lot of people watching the Pittsburgh-Boston rematch tonight.

Hey, lots of people watch porn too. Maybe they should just show that on TSN instead of hockey games.

You wanna watch guys beating on each other and giving each other concussions? There are places for that. I'll take hockey, thanks.

Jeremy Milks said...


Hockey is a tough sport. Always has been. Maybe you should watch basketball. It seems more up your alley.

Anonymous said...

I listened to the game in the car, so I didn't see the Sutton hit. But, if it was a blown call, the accountability for that sits with the referee, not with people outside the game discussing headshots.

I'll give you that the climate of the last two weeks can influence a refs decision making on the ice. I'd even say that the hyper sensitive climate is keeping certain refs on their toes. But, it's their job to get it right. If Stefane Auger blew a call, it's his fault. Tell Auger to become a better ref.

The best part of your post is the last paragraph.

This is a sure sign that Colin Campbell is starting to feel the heat after running his division like a gong-show for well over a decade now.

That is the bottom line, in my books. When you have poor leadership at the top, things get whacky eventually. The NHL is showing that it cannot police its own game effectively.

You suggested in a prior post that there are already adequate rules on the books. Dean Brown has also mentioned that. Well then, enforce them. The issue would have gone away.

If new rules bring clarity, I'm in favour of them. But, whether you have new rules or not, you have to punish hits like Cooke's severely, and any hit to the head for that matter.

In the end, the changes will be driven by the owners for fear of legal liability. This case is too juicy for lawyers who want to make some coin, and up their profile.

As soon as those studies that link head trauma to permanent brain damage become more mainstream, the temperature level on this file is going to rise. The NHL would be wise to lead on this issue.

Thumbs up to Versage and Melanson.

P.S. Enough with the gratuitous shots at Steve Lloyd otherwise I'm starting rumour that you're a Tim Horton loving fan of Nickelback ... just kidding.

Anonymous said...

i saw the sutton hit and it was totally clean, not even borderline.

anyway nice blog today.

wtf is wrong with this team. can we fire the Murray's yet. is it possible to fire the owner - nice mullet and gay leather jacket EM. This team is blowing your money left right and centre. watch how sales free fall next yr if the sens don't make the playoffs again this year.

Peter Raaymakers said...

Great post. I'm often in disagreement with you on some points, and I fully support the new blindside rule (I get the impression you don't), but I'm in total agreement with you about the Sutton hit: That was a 'big hit' penalty. And although I failed to notice it, it definitely took the wind out of Ottawa's sails.

Unfortunately, I don't like your new page banner so much... I like the old retro ones, they were slick.